Fire Warden briefs Mt. Pleasant on program to control wildfire costs
MT PLEASANT—The Sanpete County fire warden briefed the Mt. Pleasant City Council last week on a new law that aims to increase protection of Utah cities from wildfire, both physically and financially.
In response to trends in wildfires in Utah, the last Utah Legislature passed a law that allows municipalities to join in a “cooperative agreement” with the state like the counties already do, Fire Warden Fred Johnson explained to the council.
The new trends include more fires, greater intensity and larger areas affected by fire. These greater fires are affecting cities more than in the past, resulting in greater costs to the cities.
According to Johnson, “2012 was a devastating year” for cities dealing with wildfires.
The new law is available to cities that (1) have adopted a “Community Wildfire Protection/Preparedness Plan,” (2) have a fire department that meets certain standards, and (3) each year approve a participation commitment.
The “participation commitment” requires a city to treat areas that are fire prone, upgrade its fire department and step up prevention efforts. Johnson assured the city council that Mt Pleasant already met all of the criterion in the new law.
Each city will have a monetary value attached to its participation commitment based on the size of the city and how much the state has spent fighting fires in the city in the past 10 years. For Mt Pleasant, the amount will be $3,900. The city must document spending at least that amount each year meeting requirements set down in the law.
The way the law works is that a city has to continue with its current firefighting capability and respond to fires in its jurisdiction. If the city ever faces a fire that goes beyond its capabilities, it can call the Utah Division of Fire, Forestry and State Lands (DFFSL), which will jump in to help.
The state maintains an “Initial Attack Card” for wildfires, a volume of services it can commit to without billing for its services. If the fire requires a response beyond that, then the state takes over total responsibility for the fire, and the city, so long as has a participation commitment, is not financially obligated for the cost of the fire response at all.
If this type of fire only occurs once in a city, then it is called a “high occurrence” and is not counted toward the 10-year average of money spent by DFFSL to fight fires in that city.
Councilman Justin Atkinson asked Johnson what would happen if a city did not sign the agreement. Johnson answered that the city would be responsible for the cost of a major fire.
Mayor David Blackham said the agreement did not have any down-side for the city. “I don’t see how any community in Sanpete can’t sign this agreement, right away.”
Sam Draper, the city fire chief, also supported the agreement. “All it takes is one bad fire to ruin the city.”
The council unanimously approved signing the agreement, which is set to take effect on July 1.
Just before the council meeting started, Mayor Blackham unveiled plans for the municipal swimming pool scheduled for construction later in the year. He invited council members to take a look at the plans.